Matthias Bruggmann

An Act of Unspeakable Violence

Tuesday to Sunday, 11pm - 6pm.
October 17, 2018 - January 18, 2019.

Marmarita, Reef Homs, 11 septembre 2013 © Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images. Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne et Galerie Polaris, Paris

Matthias Bruggmann won the second edition of the Prix Elysée, with the support of Parmigiani Fleurier, for his project on Syria. Hoping to “arouse in a Western audience a visceral understanding of the intangible violence that underlies any conflict”, he takes the gamble of hiding nothing in his explicit and brutal pictures. Taken in the field, they force the viewer to slow down and take stock of the war—geographically distant, admittedly, but made omnipresent by the media.

If the tens of thousands of pictures of torture taken by Syrian photographers do not attract the attention of a Western audience, what can a foreigner who doesn’t even speak Arabic hope to accomplish? The photographs of Matthias Bruggmann take a critical look at the representation of the atrocities of war. They give Westerners a more nuanced picture of the reality of an armed conflict and blur the boundaries between photojournalism and contemporary artistic photography.

Launched in 2012, his project plunges us into the complexity of the conflict. His images, which cover a geographic zone larger than Syria, question our moral assumptions and bring about a better understanding of the violence underlying this conflict.

Matthias Bruggmann explains: “Formally, my previous work put viewers in a position where they were asked to decide the nature of the work itself. A scientifically questionable analogy of this mechanism would be the observer effect in quantum physics, where the act of observing changes the nature of what is being observed. My Syrian work builds on this framework. From a documentation perspective, it is, thus far and to the best of my knowledge, unique as the work, inside Syria, of a single Western photographer, in large part thanks to the assistance and hard work of some of the best independent experts on the conflict. Because of the nature of this conflict, I believe it is necessary to expand the geographical scope of the work. At its core is an attempt at generating a sense of moral ambiguity. The design of this is to make viewers uneasy by challenging their own moral assumptions and, thus, attempt to bring, to Western viewers, a visceral comprehension of the intangible violence that underlies conflict. One of the means is by perverting the codes normally used in documentary photography to enhance identification with the subject.

Warning: the content of this exhibition may be offensive or disturbing to young or uninformed viewers.


Lydia Dorner, Curator Assistant, Exhibitions department, Musée de l'Elysée


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